Chase is on in Ichiro doll giveaway

Associated Press

SEATTLE — The hottest new baseball player has been immortalized as the hottest new collectible.

News that Safeco Field will hand out free Ichiro Suzuki bobbleheads — tiny dolls with bouncing heads — to the first 20,000 fans at Saturday’s Mariners game has eager collectors planning to line up the night before and counting their projected profits on online auction sites.

"We may be out there," said Jonathan Rappaport, 35, a Seattle attorney who has box tickets for the sold-out game.

Rappaport and his brother scooped up hundreds of bobbleheads during the All-Star festivities in Seattle earlier this month and are selling them for more than $100 each over their Web site, ichibob.com.

"The spirit has caught us," he said. "We were talking about getting there at 7 a.m. I don’t think that’s going to be early enough."

The Mariners are preparing for an early turnout at Safeco Field for the afternoon game against Minnesota with extra security, portable toilets and garbage cans, said team spokeswoman Rebecca Hale.

Fans are not allowed to start lining up before midnight Friday, and Tully’s Coffee Corp. will treat those standing in line to a fresh morning brew.

No placeholding is allowed, and "if you have more than one ticket and expect to get more than one bobble, you have to go to the back of the line and go back through," Hale said.

The online auction site eBay featured Ichiro bobbleheads — going for from $19.99 for one to $800 for 10 dolls. One hopeful seller was already offering an Ichiro doll from Saturday’s game. By early Wednesday afternoon, 11 bids had already driven the price to $76.23.

Hale warned that anyone seen trying to buy bobbleheads off others will be asked to leave the game. But John Strazzara, owner of A World of Collections in Edmonds, said he knew of many people who planned to head down to Safeco Field with a wallet full of cash in hopes of bringing home Ichiro dolls.

"Like anything that’s deemed collectible, what makes it exciting is the chase," Strazzara said.

The bobblehead craze has been sweeping the sports world. Fans line up at sellout baseball games giving away bobbleheads. In Minnesota, one fan waited 25 hours outside the Metrodome for the Rod Carew bobblehead earlier this season.

Bellevue-based Alexander Global Promotions, which made the Ichiro doll, first created a Willie Mays bobblehead in 1999. In that year, the company made about 35,000 dolls for the San Francisco Giants, said Malcolm Alexander, president of Alexander Global.

In August, the company will manufacture 1.1 million dolls. The company also makes dolls for professional basketball teams, football teams, NASCAR racing and even for Disney, he said.

Alexander credited part of the appeal to the detail of the bobbleheads. For example, the Ichiro doll even has his characteristic whiskers on its face.

"There is very accurate detail in the face, and the body is very whimsical, nonathletic," he said.

Bobbleheads were once sold at souvenir stands at baseball games back to the 1960s, said Tim Hunter, of Reno, Nev., who sells vintage bobbles and wrote "Bobbing Head Dolls: 1960-2000."

He said the older papier-mache dolls sell for from $75 to $8,000.

"The appeal for older collectors is nostalgia plus better appreciation for the work done back then," Hunter said. "The appeal for the new ones is strictly p-r-o-f-i-t."

The Mariners decided that Suzuki would be the team’s first bobblehead in January when he was signed out of Japan.

That was before anyone knew the right-fielder would be an All-Star who would help lead the Mariners to the best record in baseball.

"You can suspect someone who won seven batting titles in Japan would be able to transfer some of his talent here," Hale said. "But there’s always the unknown."

They selected Saturday’s game in hopes of giving what may have been slowing ticket sales a push.

"Who knew Minnesota and the Mariners would be two of the best teams in baseball?" Hale said.

The Mariners have been leading the major league in average game attendance — 41,723 as of Tuesday night.

The team also plans to give out 20,000 bobblehead dolls of closer Kazuhiro Sasaki at the Sept. 8 game against Baltimore.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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